“I used to say ‘no promises; let’s keep it simple,’ but freedom only helps you say good-bye...” —The Carpenters
In the TV series “Lonesome Dove” (1988) Captain Woodrow McCall agrees to the deathbed wish of his friend Gus McCrae to bury his body in Texas. En route from Montana to Texas he’s often confronted by the curious who ask why he has taken on this arduous task. On one occasion, the Captain, being a man of few words, simply looks at his questioner and drawls, “I gave him my word.”
A long pause follows as the two men’s eyes examine one another. Then the stranger says, “I can see that you did.” The Captain merely nods and turns away.
There was power in that moment for it captured the character of the man. His beliefs, his words and his actions were one. “I gave him my word.” For Woodrow McCall that’s all that was needed!
In that regard I can’t help but think of our marriage vows for there we must be true to our word. The marriage vow is not a contract that can be readily cancelled by paying a few bills; it is a special promise to love, honor and cherish, “as long as we both shall live.”
The words, “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health,” take into account the possibility that keeping that promise may be difficult and that circumstances and our spouses’ needs may change over time. While there are valid biblical reasons for separation or divorce, mere difficulty in and of itself is not a reason to forsake our vows. Integrity means keeping our word, though keeping it may entail suffering and loss.
I’ve conducted hundreds of wedding ceremonies in my time and it always seems to me that the most meaningful moment comes when the bride and groom exchange rings. The ring declares to the giver, the wearer, and the community that a binding covenant has been made. The ring, being endless until broken by an outside force, speaks of endless commitment to love, honor and cherish one another, “as long as we both shall live.”
“While a normal promise indicates a determination to try, acknowledging the possibility of failure, a marriage commitment before God is a liberation from the possibility of other futures, a choice about how to spend a life that admits no second thoughts” (from a Louis Smedes’ sermon, “The Power of Promises”).
Or, as a friend of mine once put it, “My marriage vows are the vows that keep me when I don’t feel like keeping my vows.”
Sunday, August 4, 2013
What’s Wrong With My World
“Are not the gods just?” “Oh, no, my child. Where would we be if they were?”
—C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
Occasionally I get distraught by the evil I see in the world around me and wonder who’s minding the store. Does God know what’s going on? Does He care?
In my better moments, however, I know that much of the anguish in my part of the world, is self–inflicted. It is my greed, my ambition, my selfishness that has caused so much unhappiness in my family, friends and in me. I can hardly blame God for that, can I?
If, then, I am responsible for some of the evil in this world, it wouldn't do to insist that God set everything right. If he did, he would have to deal with evil unilaterally, which means he would put down monstrous tyrants around the world, but he would also put down my petty tyranny. If God were merely just where could I stand?
I’m reminded of a conversation between Robinson Crusoe and his Man Friday:
“Well,” says Friday, “you say God is so strong, so great: has he not as much strong, as much might as the devil?”
“Yes, yes,” Crusoe says, “Friday, God is much stronger than the devil.”
“But if God much strong, much might as the devil, why God no kill the devil so make him no more do wicked?”
“You might as well ask,” Crusoe answered reflectively, “Why does God not kill you and me when we do wicked things that offend?”
G. K. Chesterton was asked by a reporter, “What’s wrong with the world?” “I am,” the old sage replied.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
“It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them...The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE!” —G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Ever since I first read G. K. Chesterton’s work, Orthodoxy, I have been intrigued by his idea that God is still creating the world and everything in it. As a child delights in seeing a thing done again and again, God delights in the repetition and “monotony” of creation every day. It is possible that every new emergence—every blade of grass, every butterfly, every blossom, every billowing cloud—is a new and special creation invented out of God’s wisdom, excitement and artistry.
He paints each pansy as it emerges in the spring, he colors every leaf in the fall. He ponders every act of creation, shouts “Encore!” and the whole business begins all over again, the business of creation that began “in the beginning,” and is still going on to this day.
Thus it follows that every human conception is a new creation. God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness”—and a human life springs into being! We think of the process as purely natural: we conceive a child and it grows to term on its own. In truth it is preternatural—creatio ex nihilo as theologians say; the creation of matter and spirit out of nothing.
Chesterton suggested the idea of on–going creation to me, but David, Israel’s poet, convinced me, for he describes God first “musing” and then “weaving” David together in the darkness of his mother’s womb. He did so, David insists, “before one of them (the various elements that became ‘David’) came to into being” (Psalm 139:13–16).
In other words, God created David out of nothing. No, he created David out of himself. He imagined what David was to be, and then brought him into being according to a pre–imagined plan. [The Hebrew text reads, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance and in your book they (David’s “component parts”) were written day by day before there was one of them.” The metaphor is that of a “journal” in which God wrote his ideas of what David would become and then brought each idea into being through his handiwork in the womb.]
Put another way, we begin as a gleam in our Heavenly Father’s eye and are shaped by Love into unique, immediate creations—immediate in the ordinary sense of “unmediated,” in that we come directly from the inventive heart and hand of God. We are loved into existence; we are God’s planned and wanted children.
That means that I am special and so are you—and so is everyone else in the world. This being true I must be “pro–life” in the purest sense of the word in that I sanctify all human life—Stanford University sophisticates and untutored semi–illiterates; Seattle socialites and skid–row derelicts, winsome children and doddering old curmudgeons, fundamentalist preachers and left–wing political pundits, anti–abortion enthusiasts and pro–choice activists. All persons–all classes, ages, sexes, and races–are unique productions of our Creator’s genius.
Which is why Jesus said we should never call anyone a “fool (worthless)” (Matthew 5:22).
 The Bible supports the sanctity of human life, not life in general for it is human beings alone that are created in the image and likeness of God, i.e., more like God than any other creature.